Returning to Our Roots: Why Trump’s Absence at the Inauguration Restored Tradition in Washington
by Julia McCoy ’22
Asst. Opinion Editor
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States of America. Amidst a day of celebration and change, there was one significant figure missing: his predecessor, Donald J. Trump.
Although the former president’s absence was certainly noticeable, it also calls Americans back to the traditions of our nation’s capital and to the transformation of the highest office of the executive branch. It gave a sense of normalcy amidst the tumult of the months following the 2020 general election.
Trump is the first president to be absent from the inauguration of his successor since Richard Nixon, who famously resigned after the 1972 Watergate scandal. Previous presidents might not have attended their successor’s inauguration because of poor health, taking care of family, or being impeached. The reason for Trump’s absence? A continued failure to admit that he had lost the election.
The decision to not attend the inauguration did not come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention to the election and transition of power. In the months following the election, former President Trump and his supporters looked desperately for any evidence of voter fraud. Regardless of the numerous courts that ruled against his allegations of fraud, Trump did not concede the 2020 presidential election.
The calls of fraud and a stolen election resulted in violence. On the day the Electoral College votes were to be certified, a large number of President Trump’s supporters participated in a deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol building, with calls to hang Vice President Mike Pence and overturn the election results.
Two weeks after this insurrection shook the halls of Congress, the country was happy to embrace any sense of tradition and normalcy that the former president’s supporters had attempted to take away.
Throughout his tenure in the country’s highest office, President Trump chose to forego several traditional procedures and ideas. His constant questioning of international organizations and agreements—including the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord—led the country on a path independent from some of our strongest allies.
After four years of unconventional actions, President Trump’s absence at the Inauguration of his successor was just the last of those actions. Instead of attending, the former president chose to have a send-off rally at Joint Base Andrews before heading to Florida.
Although his likely plan for this rally was to rival the celebrations of the inauguration, many Republicans proved loyal to tradition and chose to forego Trump’s final antics. Senator Mitch McConnell and Pence, two of Trump’s closest allies, chose to decline their invitations to the send-off in favor of President Biden’s inaugural ceremonies.
With Trump’s former allies and those with whom he disagreed joining together on the steps of the Capitol that his supporters had recently breached, Jan. 20 was a day focused on moving past the last four years and looking ahead to change.
The attendance by members of the Republican Party is incredibly promising, as it shows the citizens of the United States that Republican officials care more about the continuation of the presidential transition than the lies and grandiosity of Trump’s exit from office. They would rather look to the future of the country than continue to hold onto a presidency that is clearly over.
Although there are a number of Trump supporters who continue to question the integrity of the election, the joint support for President Biden and the media coverage of celebration rather than anger and resentment sends a message to the American people that the country will move on from the deadly attacks and restore the traditions of the office that have been overlooked for four years.
President Trump did participate in one tradition before his departure, though—he left a letter for President Biden, just as his predecessors did before him. While only a few people know the contents of that letter, the gesture itself serves as a symbol of tradition and an admittance from the former president that he lost the 2020 election. However, a lack of any verbal concession stoked the flames that led to the deadly insurgence.
No matter how hard he tried to undermine the election, former President Trump’s efforts were done in vain. In the end, with the shadow of his attacks and lies looming over Washington, D.C., our country is able to continue on with the traditions of our past and look forward to a peaceful transition into Joe Biden’s presidency.